In 2016, an estimated 400 million people interacted with IBM’s Watson: The artificial intelligence platform now processes data to assist in everything from oncology treatments to NBA draft picks. In the past year, dozens of companies, including GM, Japan Airlines, Hilton, and Pfizer, have launched initiatives using IBM’s intelligence. Watson owes its ubiquity to the dozens of new AI tools, including emotional analysis and image recognition, that it offers developers. "Our mission is to let people own their own AI," says David Kenny, general manager of IBM Watson.
Retail outlets such as Macy’s and the Mall of America are employing Watson’s language-processing tools to help shoppers navigate their stores. After the North Face embedded Watson in its website to match users to winter jackets, the company saw a double-digit percentage boost in order value.
A new collaboration between Sesame Workshop and IBM is leveraging Watson’s pattern recognition and natural language-processing skills to create preschool curriculums tailored to children’s learning styles. A Watson-powered vocabulary-builder app will start rolling out this spring.
The labor rights group Our Walmart recently created a chat app called WorkIt that uses Watson to digest the retailer’s employment issues and policies (including leave-of-absence and sick-leave procedures) and answer questions that employees may not want to pose to managers.
This article is part of our coverage of the World's Most Innovative Companies of 2017.
A version of this article appeared in the March 2017 issue of Fast Company magazine.